Every municipal police and fire department has mastered the oldest bureaucratic budget maneuver in the book: If told to cut your budget slightly, don’t eliminate unneeded positions, buy less fancy office furniture, or delay buying new cars and equipment.
Just announce the closure of an entire police or fire station.
As the Chicago Tribune reported not long ago, “‘Everybody on the City Council is in favor of facilities consolidation until they start to talk about the police station in their neighborhood,’ said Ald. Ricardo Munoz, 22nd, who added that he would fight attempts to close the station in his ward.”
Since protecting citizens’ lives is the first duty of government, public-safety functions are usually the last to feel the effects of tightened budgets. This is especially true at the federal level, where cuts to the defense budget are generally portrayed as assaults on the nation’s very existence. There are a variety of reasons to tread softly on any sort of defense cuts: You only get to err by under-defending the country once. The battlefield edge today, and even more so in the future is a product of advanced—and expensive—technologies. Those who put their lives on the line for the rest of us deserve the best equipment and protective gear, and the most reasonable pay and benefits, that we can afford.
But does that mean that we cannot cut the defense budget without short-changing national security? To hear some tell it the answer is “no.” But the Defense Department is part of the same government that most Americans abjure for its inefficiency, waste, and fraud. In fact, you can find just about everything that’s wrong with government in the defense budget. Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn, no liberal, has derided the Pentagon as the “Department of Everything” for its wide-ranging activities.
Read more. [Image: Jacquelyn Martin/Reuters]
The Pentagon’s decision to end its ban on women-in-combat — a change announced, formally, this afternoon — is simply a decision whose time, in many, many ways, has come. But it is also, importantly, a decision that technological advances have made easier: more sensible, more practical, more impermeable to objection. While some will still make social and cultural arguments against women serving on the front lines — most of which will boil down to the idea that it’s hard for “bands of brothers" to coalesce when sisters are part of the equation — most other objections are now, or will soon be, preempted. And that’s in part because of technology.
Read more. [Image: David Kamm, U.S. Army Natick Soldier RD&E Center]
By all accounts, the Air Force’s track record of making bombers the country can afford is dismal. The B-1 program was cancelled mid-stream by the Carter administration after its cost doubled, then revived under President Reagan. The B-2 grew so costly in the early 1990s that the Pentagon ended up buying just a fifth of the aircraft originally planned.
The B-2s are actually not used much now, partly because few targets justify risking aircraft that cost $3 billion apiece in today’s dollars, and partly because their flights by some estimates cost$135,000 per hour — almost double that of any other military airplane.
The Air Force says the new bomber is slated to cost roughly $55 billion, or about $550 million a plane — less than a quarter of the price of the B-2. If costs rise, “we don’t get a program,” Air Force chief of staff Gen. Norton Schwartz recently told reporters, citing a 2009 warning by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, an airpower skeptic, as Gates cancelled an earlier attempt to build a new bomber.
One of the skeptics is Tom Christie, the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester from 2001 until his retirement in 2005. He says that if $550 million per copy is the target, “you’re talking $2 billion by the time they build the damn thing …. How many times [have] we been through this with bombers? And look where we end up.”
"Besides, what do we need it for?"
Read more. [Image: Center for Public Integrity]